Let Your Values Guide You

Now that you have a sense of the skills and assets you bring to the farm, let’s focus in on why you’re farming. If you’re not clear about this, you may feel like quitting once the 16-hr workdays of spring arrive. Understanding how the farm supports the quality of life you need to feel fulfilled and happy is essential. Otherwise you’ll feel like you’re just milking cows or weeding endless rows of onions, without a clear sense of the bigger picture to buoy you through the difficult parts of farming.

It’s tempting to think, “I don’t need to write this down! I have it all in my head.” But if you don’t write it down, you’d be surprised how easy it is to lose track of your intentions and most deeply-held values when you’re in the middle of an overwhelming season. It’s also easier to actively use these statements to make decisions when you can look at them in writing. Then you’re more likely to make decisions to move you toward realizing your values, rather than spending all your time running from one fire to the next in reaction mode.

Also, if you included anyone besides yourself in your list of farm decision-makers (in the previous Resource Inventory exercise), it is especially critical to sit down together and discuss the questions in the worksheet below. Too many farms have failed because husband-and-wife, or farm business partners, were not on the same page about what they needed from the farm.

The “Farm/Family Goal”  you draft with the farm’s other decision-makers provide a framework for evaluating the choices you make. Note that many of these will have nothing to do with farming per se; they need to reflect what you as a human being care most deeply about. From these “values” statements (like “We are paid well for doing work we love” and “We value strong family relationships and spend lots of quality time together), you can begin to construct more specific, time-sensitive goals that will help you live your values.

To help you clarify your values, ask yourself the questions in the worksheet below. Ask everyone who will play an important role in the farm business to respond to these too, and compare your answers.

Concepts around articulating your quality of life in a “holistic goal” come from Holistic Management International, an organization that helps people, especially land managers, make better decisions.

Click here to complete the worksheet on Identifying Your Values. Submit it and we’ll email you a copy of your responses! Send us feedback or report bugs using this form.

Once you have a list of all the farm decision-makers’ responses, post it in a place where you can all see it regularly. Discuss any areas where there seem to be disparate needs, but try to focus on those common things that everyone wants. Reference this farm/family goal anytime you are considering a major farm decision, like whether or not to add a new enterprise, spend a large amount of money, or make other major changes on the farm. Ask yourselves:

  1. Have we thought really creatively about all the possible courses of action we could take?
  2. Will this decision move us closer to the life we want?
  3. If we’re addressing a problem, are we getting at the root cause, or merely treating symptoms?
  4. What is the weakest part of our farm operation: producing enough product, getting that product to market, or selling everything we produce? If we’re contemplating spending money, will the expense address this weak spot?
  5. What is the environmental impact of the decision we’re considering? How does that fit in with our values?
  6. Will we upset anyone whose support we need?
  7. How do we collectively feel about this decision now?

Your Farm/Family Goal shouldn’t remain static. Through using it to make decisions, you may realize things you’ve left out, or find reasons to update existing statements over time. Only through actively using it, in conjunction with the questions above, can it help ensure you’re still creating the life, and farm, you set out to create.

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